March 1- Day 1 of Lent


Lord God, during this Lenten season, teach us to come before you in humility, lamenting the signs that your kingdom has not yet come in its fullness. Help us to acknowledge our finitude and failings, and guide us into a journey of remembering rightly, repenting honestly, and responding faithfully. We long for the coming of your mosaic kingdom in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and invite your Holy Spirit to lead us now.


Doctrine of Discovery Written into U.S. Law

March 1, 1823 marked the first day after the landmark Supreme Court case, Johnson v. McIntosh, which made the “Doctrine of Discovery” explicit in U.S. Law. In this landmark case, two men of European descent went to trial about land ownership, as one had acquired the land from the government and the other had gained land from a Native tribe. The Supreme Court determined that the basis for land titles was “discovery,” while also concluding that Natives only had the right to “occupancy” to land (without full title to their own land) while Europeans had the right to “discovery,” and therefore ownership. As a result of this decision, the Supreme court denied individuals permission to buy land from Native American tribes, and established that Native Americans only possessed a limited right of “occupancy” to their own land, without full title.

This decision also reframed the Doctrine of Discovery, which was originally established by the Catholic Church through the Papal Bulls of the 15th century. These Bulls stated, “Whatever lands you encounter that are not ruled by Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the land is yours for the taking,” in order that “The Catholic faith and Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread…that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” These documents created a foundation for non-indigenous communities to claim sovereignty over indigenous lands and territories, based on the notion that Native communities were not Christian, and thus not fully “human.”

The Doctrine of Discovery also provided justification for Christian European governments in subjugating, enslaving, and converting Native peoples. While there were an estimated 10 million+ Native Americans living in the land that is now the United States when Europeans first arrived in the 15th century, there were less than 300,000 Native Americans living in the United States by 1900. The realities of colonization, disease, violent conflict, broken treaties, land removal, boarding schools, and forced assimilation ravaged Native communities and continue to impact the Native American community today.

The Doctrine of Discovery continues to govern United States Law, and has been cited as recently as 2005, in the decision, City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y.


“Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
   because the Lord has a charge to bring
   against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
   no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
   and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Because of this the land dries up,
   and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
   and the fish in the sea are swept away….

“Because you have rejected knowledge,
   I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
   I also will ignore your children.
7 The more priests there were,
   the more they sinned against me;
   they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful.
8 They feed on the sins of my people
   and relish their wickedness.
9 And it will be: Like people, like priests.
   I will punish both of them for their ways
   and repay them for their deeds.”

RESPONSE OF LAMENT AND CONFESSION: Please spend some time in personal response, crying out to God with prayers, poems, songs, or art that expresses your lament and confession. If you feel led, please share these responses with others using #lentenlament #day1.

You may close with the following:

Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy,
Lord, have mercy.

CLOSING PRAYER: DAMAGED (Jon Humphries, May 2016)

Lord of the people,
Christ of justice,
Spirit in this land, 
Our people are damaged.

Our First Peoples suffer in the wake of a history which should not have been,
A history which resulted in
Their people killed or dying
Their wellbeing infected and dissolved
Their culture taken or eroded
Their children snatched and stolen
Their family life shattered and shredded
Their land divvied up and despoiled
Their way of life polluted and poisoned
Their wisdom insulted and ignored
Their pride eroded and soiled
Their spirituality attacked and subverted
Their sovereignty transgressed
Their heritage robbed and ruined
Their humanity denied

Whether it was well-intentioned but, misguided,
Ignorant or malicious,
It was wrong.

The treatment by Europeans of First Peoples of this land has damaged the fabric of their being,
And the legacy of that history continues to affect their life in this day and times.
The damage was not only done, but continues to be done
And we have much to be sorry for as a country.

May we all work for reconciliation.
Awake in our nation a desire for repentance.
Let us
Own the past in truth
Lament the damage done
Understand the pain experienced
And join with our indigenous sisters and brothers in their sorrow.

May we work to turn what can be around.
May we seek to learn from them and support them in their healing.
May we look to their empowerment.
May we do what is right.

Lord of the people,
The damage has been done,
But may we work together for a better future
That all might find peace and healing as a nation under your love.

In your grace, Christ Jesus,
We pray.

-Originally shared on Pilgrim UC’s worship planning website

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